Testers at Bungie have all the fun. It’s a super easy job, too. Not only is it a great way to translate your favorite pastime into a career, but all you have to do is sit around and play games all day. Who wouldn’t love a gig like that? To be honest, what you just read is one of the most vicious myths about the video game industry. Testing games is a rigorous occupation. A good tester possesses unshakeable patience, a surgical attention to detail, an ever-evolving understanding of the systems they are proving, and a hatred of bugs that runs as deep as their love for games. The process that “assures the quality” of our work is the backbone of our culture as a developer. But don’t take it from me. There goes a brave member of the team right now.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
My name is Scott Kankelborg. You blocked my test pass, prepare to die. In fancy-speak, my job is “Quality Assurance”. The most uplifting description of what I do: “To be an advocate for the consumer.” My current deployment has me embedded deep in the heart of the User Interface team where I scream battle slogans like “Standard Definition” and “Aspect Ratio.” I’m also helping to lay the foundation for testing on multiple platforms. I owned the Saved Film system for Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Reach, and dabbled in other areas such as Performance, File Sharing, Configuration, and User Interface.
You must get so tired of holding a game controller. Once we release you into the wild, how do you unwind?
True to stereotype, I spend a healthy portion of my time outside of work gaming (including sacred duties as a Minecraft server admin), eating pizza, and drinking Mt. Dew. I also spend a bunch of time doing Pen & Paper RPG’s; I’m running a Pathfinder game at home and here at Bungie, and am a player in both a Pathfinder and Star Trek game. While working at a previous job I also picked up a nice side hobby of heading to the gun range. Sorry ladies, I realize at this point you can’t control yourselves, but I’m already happily married to an amazing woman (and she games too!).
That last reveal is sure to break some hearts, but breaking things is what testers do best. Right? How did you cultivate yourself into being such a catch?
I’ve done all sorts of things before I found my true calling at Bungie. I’ve been everything from a camp counselor to an armed guard at a military base (and probably everything in between). Every job has had mountains of useful experience leading to my current job. For any job, you should look back and find skills and experiences that you can build from. For example, security work teaches you all about documenting events, which translated into filling out bugs with repro steps that explain exactly what happened to somebody that wasn’t there. Darth Jevans and Uncle Sam both love their complete documentation!
Was an exciting career in complete documentation something you have always dreamt about? What did you used to tell people when they grilled you about what you were going to do with your life?
Funny story time! Back in middle school, we had to do a written report with a presentation to the class on that very subject. I was deep into SimCity and SimAnt at the time and felt my report should be all about how I wanted to work at Maxis when I grew up. Most gamers probably know that company, but my teacher was no gamer. As I stood up to give my report, my teacher announced, “You want to work at Maxi’s? Like…the pads?” I spent the rest of my years at that school convincing everybody that “Maxis” was the name of a company that made games. I was scarred for life.
You are among friends now, Scott. Just imagine what teachers ask students who say they want to work for Bungie. Was the rest of your schooling that traumatic?
I went straight into the workforce from High School. I took some classes at a college in my hometown but never finished. After I had begun working as a contract tester I began attending weekend classes on Quality Assurance and coding at Bellevue Community College (remember that sweet consumer advocate line? This is where I heard it).
Truth be told, I learned that I should have finished college. There is a lot you can learn while at college, aside from the things you learn in college. To some degree getting out alive with a diploma in hand proves you know how to work long hours, write detailed reports, and study up on subjects that you once knew nothing about. I had to prove those skills on the job. Don’t like the assignment? You better work extra hard because some day your boss is going to give you an assignment you don’t like. I also learned that if you tackle every assignment as if it was of upmost importance, it will absolutely pay off.
As a student of the world, was it hard to infiltrate our studio? How did you seduce Bungie into taking you seriously as a candidate for a Test position?
I made it clear I was ready to dig deep and work. I had zero experience in the software/gaming industry but I had a love of gaming and the willingness to work hard. I had actually worked for Microsoft/Bungie as a contractor for 3 years before I got called up to the major leagues.
If you asked Darth Jevans, I’m sure he’d say something about my zealotry. I’ll take on any assignment I’m given (I suspect he has given me a few just to see if I’ll say no) and I’ll also be the over-zealous maniac at his desk when things need to get done and e-mail just isn’t cutting it. Warning: You gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em. Be over-zealous in things because you believe in them and want to see the job done as best you can; you better be sure you are really ready to die on that little mountain of yours.
Such drama! You could have been a thespian with bravado like that. Can you apply that storytelling flair to recount your interview with us?
My initial contracting interview was easy compared to all the guys that went thru Bungie’s normal interview loop. The hardest part was that the real interview lasted 3 years! Nobody told me I was interviewing and nobody promised me riches or dangled a sweet job offer in front of me. During that interview, I asked a bunch of questions like; “How can I automate this process”, “How can I do this so an Engineer doesn’t have to”, and “How does this whole process work?”
Your work has spoken for itself. Now that you have ascended that personal mountain that threatened to kill you, what has been your proudest memory of reaching the summit?
My biggest test-related moments of pure happiness come when I nail a hard-to-reproduce bug. I once spent nearly 3 weeks on a film error that occurred in Halo 3 that we wanted to patch in a title update. I stared at the reports I had, the films uploaded, and the few screenshots I had until I could recite them from memory. Finally it hit me and I had it nailed immediately. Outside of direct testing, it’s the amazing time I get to spend with the Make-A-Wish kids that come thru our studio. It’s a complete honor and privilege to be able to run playtests for and get to know these kids.
Is every day packed with such heroics? Tell us what happens between sunrise and sunset – not that we can see either from our windowless fortress...
For test the day starts out with our BVT team’s ritual sacrifice to the build gods. These “lucky” souls have the honor of arriving early in the morning and scouring the build for any blockers. Embedded testers such as me roll in at whichever time best suits the needs of their area. After we arrive all bets are off. A tester’s schedule rarely goes as planned. You’ll quickly get randomized for playtests, BVT support, or just to be an extra eye on some area that needs a little extra love. Of course no day in the life of any tester is complete without test cases. Lots and lots (and lots) of test cases. Test Status Reports are like unholy offerings to our test leads. Go too long without sending one and they will rise from their deep slumber to eat your soul.
Bungie tries to balance those unholy offerings with perks and rewards. Which ones warm your weary soul the most?
If I answered anything other than “the free Mt. Dew” every friend/family member I have that reads this would call me a liar. There are a ton of sweet perks showered on us regularly but this really does it. Every time I brag to anybody I always start with the Mt. Dew.
Your honesty is most appreciated. Since you are so willing to share, tell us what you still have to learn. How can you become a more powerful tester?
Having a deeper knowledge of software is a good place to start. Learn coding, learn to multithread, and learn to create an app or two on your PC, Smartphone, Xbox, or whatever. Having an understanding of how code works can benefit any tester. I also ask the folks in my areas how they do their work. I can now say that I have built my own functioning UI screen. It had rainbow pancakes and looked amazing.
The Internet is filled with gamers who would love to duplicate your journey. What would you offer them as sage counsel?
The folks that I see flourishing all have a deep hunger to improve. They don’t just show up, file the required number of bugs, and go home. They learn coding, and then show the manager all the bugs their automation caught while they did their normal work, they free up developers by handling some of the load, they give good feedback from playtests (Hint: “this is stupid and I hate it” is not good feedback), and they all show a love for the job.
One of the biggest reasons I didn’t get into the industry sooner was the fear that it would make me hate gaming. This was absolutely not the case for me. I now appreciate all of the work put into the games I love so much more than I ever did.
Do not fear this final question, Scott. You have met this challenge with grace thus far… Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Work Ethic > Experience > Talent. I don’t think talent or experience will get you very far without the work ethic. It’s that ethic that will give you the raw experience and it’s also a good ethic that will help direct that raw talent into form. Even if you have talent you need to be experienced and be productive with it.
With that, we send Scott back to his hunt for bugs. They won’t bash themselves. If his story inspires you to climb a mountain of your own, our Careers page has many to choose from. If you would like to explore the whole range of possibilities at Bungie, check out our Breaking In